Tampa Bay has a history of deadly wrong-way crashes

Wrong-way crashes tend to involve impaired drivers and happen late at night or early in the morning, according to a Tampa Bay Times review.
A wrong-way driver was killed and another motorist injured in this 2019 crash on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
A wrong-way driver was killed and another motorist injured in this 2019 crash on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Published March 9, 2021|Updated March 9, 2021

Crashes caused by wrong-way drivers are not a new phenomenon. But in Tampa Bay, they have been persistent and deadly.

Over an 8-month period in 2014, six wrong-way crashes killed 11 people on bay area interstates, drawing national attention.

Related: Data shows wrong-way crashes aren't a new phenomenon in Tampa Bay (w/video)

Experts said then that wrong-way crashes weren’t a unique occurrence in the area, that they happen all across the country.

However, a Tampa Bay Times review of crash records found that wrong-way driving is an “astonishingly common phenomenon” in the region.

“In the past seven years, troopers have responded to at least 70 incidents of wrong-way drivers on limited-access highways around Tampa Bay,” the Times story stated. “That tally does not include nearly 700 wrong-way incidents that occurred on local streets in 2014 alone.

“Among the data the Times collected, one pattern stands out: drunken driving. In almost all of the wrong-way driving cases that resulted in a crash, and in all six of this year’s fatal wrecks, the drivers were legally impaired,” the 2014 report states.

Related: ‘Highly decorated’ Tampa police officer killed in wrong-way crash on I-275

In addition, almost all of the incidents the Times reviewed happened in the late evening or early morning hours.

Wrong-way crashes didn’t begin or end with that deadly run in 2014. They continue to this day, including the crash early Tuesday morning that killed Tampa Master Patrol Officer Jesse Madsen on northbound Interstate 275.

Here are some of the crashes that have occurred over the past decade:

July 19, 2012

A driver went south in the northbound lanes of I-275 near downtown Tampa and crashed into a car carrying three men, killing one. The wrong-way driver had a prior DUI conviction in Leon County and was also drunk the night of the wrong-way crash. He later cut off an ankle monitor and fled home confinement while awaiting trial for DUI manslaughter. He was captured in Spain in 2016, extradited back to Florida and in 2018 he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Feb. 9, 2014

Four University of South Florida fraternity brothers died after a wrong-way driver slammed into their car on I-275 just north of E Busch Boulevard. The wrong-way driver also was killed. Tests showed he had a blood-alcohol content level of 0.20, more than twice the level at which Florida law presumes impairment, which is 0.08. The crash occurred about 2 a.m.

March 12, 2016

Hillsborough sheriff’s Deputy John Kotfila Jr., died in a wrong-way collision with a drunk driver. Kotfila acted as a “human shield,” a witness said, pulling in front of the wrong-way driver’s car to absorb the impact of the crash along the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway in Brandon. Tests showed the wrong-way driver, who also died, had a blood-alcohol content level of 0.27. The crash occurred about 2:45 a.m.

Jan. 26, 2020

A wrong-way driver killed two people near Tampa International Airport during Gasparilla weekend. The driver — who was wearing beads around his neck — was going the wrong way on the George J. Bean Parkway, officials said. He was arrested on charges of DUI manslaughter. The crash occurred about 3:10 a.m.

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June 6, 2020

A wrong-way driver and the motorist he struck were both killed in a crash in the southbound lanes of I-275 in Hillsborough County near the West Shore Boulevard exit. The crash occurred about 3:15 a.m.

March 2, 2021

Two women in their 20s were killed in a wrong-way crash on N Dale Mabry Highway that occurred at 3 a.m. Officials said one of the women was driving south in the northbound lanes when she hit the other woman’s car.